Rayce stared at the parchment in his hands with disdain, hardly believing the words spread out before him. It had to be a ruse, some kind of cruel joke. He simply could not accept the message he had just read. A feminine footfall behind him drew his attention and he turned just in time to see his wife breeze into their study, humming a silly little lullaby as she bounced one of their sons on her hip.
“Hello, dearest.” She greeted him happily with a kiss on the cheek before setting Griffin down in the playpen near her desk to play with his brother, Greger. The baby gave an unhappy squeal at being set down but she fixed him with a motherly glare. “That is enough, please. Mommy cannot carry you all day and I’m sure your brother has missed you terribly.”
She bent down to place a kiss against each little forehead before turning her attention back to her husband. He had not returned her cheerful greeting nor acknowledged their son, two things very out of character for the king. She placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and noted with concern that his brow was creased in anger.
“Rayce? Is everything alright, love?”
“Did you know?” He asked, voice tight.
“Did I know what?”
“About this!” He held the parchment in question out for her to see. Elsa’s heart dropped at the sight. She had indeed seen it, several days prior in fact, and had been frantically trying to find a way to tell her husband. He noted the guilty look on her face. “How long?”
“A few days...” she admitted quietly. ” I was hoping to break it to you gently.”
“Well you’ve done a fine job of that.” He muttered angrily which sparked the queen’s own anger.
"Don’t do that. Don’t act like I’ve wronged you or that this is the worse thing that could have happened!”
“My sister is marrying the King of the Southern Isles! I can think of few things worse than that!”
“Really? Is it worse than being poisoned? Worse than nearly dying half a dozen times in as many months? Worse than nearly losing our children?”
“Elsa, you know I didn’t mean...” he began, the wind sufficiently taken from his sails.
“No, I know exactly what you meant. I’m just trying to understand where you draw your definition of ‘worst case scenarios’ because it differs wildly from mine!”
The boys gave an unhappy squeal at the sharp tone of their mother’s voice, one of them beginning to cry. She hastened to the playpen, stooping low to soothe them.
“I’m sorry. Mommy’s sorry. She didn’t mean to yell...” she cooed to them, lightly stroking their chubby little cheeks. They were beginning to settle when a warm hand was placed on her shoulder. She leaned her cheek against it, knowing both she and her husband had overreacted. “I’m sorry.” She repeated quietly.
“No, love I am. You’re correct that we have been through far worse... Forgive me?”
“I have to,” she told him with a slight lift to her voice. “It is far too much trouble to train a new husband and King!”
“As long as I can make things convenient for you...” he responded, relieved the tension between them was dissipating. Elsa stood and wrapped her long arms around her husband’s waist. He returned the embrace gazing down on her. “Why would Amina do this?”
“Love is often found in the most unlikely of places. You and I know this all too well dear husband. ”
“But Greger has done so many terrible things...”
“And he has also done much to redeem himself.”
“How can you be so understanding? Many people still view him as a monster for his crimes.”
“I must believe he deserves forgiveness if I am to accept it for myself.”
“Dearest,” he tipped her chin up to look at him. “You are nothing like that man!”
The queen scoffed and pulled away from her husband. She moved over to the window, staring out at the fjord, its waters sparkling blue. How different things had looked just a few years ago...
“We are more alike than you think...” she muttered. “You forget,” she spoke louder this time. “Just a few years ago, I damned this kingdom to an unnatural winter, nearly killed the one person I held dear. There were losses... so many losses. And though no resident of Arendelle perished, I did unforgiveable damage.”
“I understand having an ability you cannot fully control. The damage so easily done when one loses what little control that exists. There are still many in Arendelle who fear me, hateme for the loss my actions caused. No amount of good deeds nor reparations can ever truly replace a lost limb or rebuild a home passed down through a family for generations...”
Rayce moved to stand behind his wife, drawing her gently against his chest. She relaxed into the soothing embrace before speaking again.
“I have to believe in him,” she reiterated. “Or I cannot believe in myself. That is why I named our son after him. To remind me that we all deserve a chance to make things right, a chance at happiness and if we work hard, maybe, just maybe... we get our happy ending.”
“You’re right dearest. As you usually are,” Rayce told his wife, placing a small kiss against her temple. “Though you freely forgave me for my insensitivity, I feel the need to earn it...”
“Oh...” the queen exclaimed picking up on her husband’s seductive tone. “While that is a very tempting offer, who will watch the boys? And I have a meeting with the trade guild-”
Elsa was cut off when her husband tilted her face towards his and claimed her mouth with fiery passion. When he at last released her, the young woman blushed furiously.
“Gerda?” she called out with urgency. “Gerda, can you please come here?”
“Yes, Milady?” Gerda appeared at the door with an expectant look on her face.
“Azim and I have some... important matters to attend to. Can you see that the boys are fed and put down for their nap?”
“Of course.” The woman moved to grab the children, plopping one chubby infant on each hip as the royals quickly made their way to the door.
On the way out, Rayce continued to tease his wife, placing small kisses along her neck and letting his warm hands roam. It seemed to be having the desired effect as the queen turned back to her servant.
“Please have Kai cancel my meetings this afternoon.”
“Of course, Milady.” The older woman replied, smiling with knowing.
“And have dinner sent to our room,” Rayce piped up. “We shall be indisposed well into the evening.”
With a devilish smile, he grabbed his wife’s hand and hastened to their quarters. Gerda watched the pair go, shaking her head.
“Those two...” she muttered with a chuckle. “If they keep that up, we’ll be in need of another nursery! Now then, let’s see about getting you two fed...”
Later that night, the royal couple lay in bed, doting on their two little princes. Greger was asleep against his father’s chest; little mouth drooped open as he slumbered. Griffin lay between his parents, valiantly fighting the slumber his brother had already succumbed to. It proved to be a losing battle as Elsa drew comforting circles over his belly and stroked his face with her cool hands.
As her sons eyes finally fell closed, the new mother marveled at the beauty of the moment. How she had managed to create these two gorgeous little men would be a riddle that would perplex her for a lifetime. She gently traced the birthmark on Griffin’s face, committing every facet to memory. Rayce raised his free arm and she happily tucked into it, still unable to stop touching her boys.
“This is so perfect...” she whispered, afraid to break the spell.
“It is.” Her husband agreed, reflecting on the hellish path the pair had taken to get to this point. “Dearest, you must never underestimate how much I love you and our boys! Even when I am pig-headed and childish, my love for our family remains.”
“I know and they know it too.” She reached out to run a cool hand through Greger’s hair. Both boys had been born with a full head of caramel curls; curls which were rapidly getting out of hand. “They’ll need haircuts soon...” she mused.
“Never!” Her husband protested. “Let their manes flow majestically like their father’s.” The queen laughed lightly as her husband attempted to puff out his chest without disturbing the sleeping baby sprawled across him.
“I’ll consider it.” She promised him with a quick peck on the cheek. “We will have to come to an agreement soon; we have a royal wedding to attend. It simply would not do to have the crown princes of Arendelle looking like two little wild men!”
“I suppose that could be embarrassing,” he agreed with a chuckle. “We’ll figure something out.” He assured her.
“I have no doubt...” She smiled against his chest, sleep pulling at her as well. Rayce tilted his head to lay atop hers, breathing her scent in deeply.
“Hmmmmm...” Elsa mumbled, quite nearly asleep herself.
“Do you think Amina will find this much happiness with Greger?′
“I don’t believe she would have agreed to it otherwise. Have faith, love.” She told him quietly. “In your sister and in the man Greger has become with her at his side.”
“How do you do that?”
“Play the wise, supportive wife, mother, sister-in-law AND queen!” he huffed in exasperation. “You know there’s no defense against that.”
“Just one of my many talents, dear husband. I would demonstrate the rest but I believe you got the gist this afternoon... and this evening...” she teased him, letting her voice trail.
“So I did.” He laughed again. “Goodnight, my love.”
Rayce waited for a response but received none. Glancing down he found Elsa fast asleep alongside their boys. With practiced movements, he used one hand to pull the blankets up and over them, tucking the foursome in tight. Knowing his little family was safe and secure quickly lulled the young king into a restful slumber, even with the thought of giving his sister away to the Southern Isles lurking in the background. The young family man could never have guessed that across the fjord, just a few days sail, the subjects of his concern were engaged in a very heated argument; one that stemmed solely from the announcement of their upcoming nuptials.
“I don’t like this! I don’t like deceiving my brother! We should tell him the truth.” Amina growled at her husband-to-be, willing him to see her side of things.
“Amina, please! I don’t like it either,” the new king sighed in exasperation. “But it’s for the best. Keeping them in the dark is the only way we can protect them. I owe Elsa and your brother a great debt. I could never forgive myself if harm came to them or their boys. Especially, my namesake...” he joked lightly, trying to lighten the mood.
“Greger...” Amina sighed in response. “You know I would do anything for my brother. It just feels like there must be another way.”
“I know, my dear,” he approached her, gently drawing her against him. “But we have been over it a dozen times. Our marriage is the only way to ensure their safety. I’m sorry to have dragged you into this.”
“It’s not your fault! I don’t regret these months spent by your side; I have grown to love your people as my own...” she paused to stare into his deep, brown eyes. “I just thought... I hoped... that when I wed it would be MY choice.”
“I am truly sorry, Amina. I know I am not what you want nor whom but I swear I will do ALL I can to make this union pleasurable for you. And once we figure a way out of this, I will release you from the marriage if that is what you truly wish...”
“Thank you, Greger,” she sniffed a little as the tears began to fall. “That means more than you know. I suppose if I must be forced into marriage, I’m glad it’s with you.”
“Why thank you my dear. You sure know how to make a man feel wanted!” he joked, hugging her closer as she cried.
Staring out the window at the open sea, he could only wonder what enemies were lurking in the dark beyond his borders. He had no doubt that the forces orchestrating his marriage had MUCH larger plans for both the Southern Isles and Arendelle. Greger clenched his jaw in determination as he comforted his fiancée. The new king was resolved to protect Amina and the royal family of Arendelle with his last breath if necessary. But not before he struck down the people behind this and showed them that no matter how far he had come... he was STILL his father’s son!